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OBITUARIES : Claudio Guzman, 1927 - 2008

Producer of 'Villa Alegre' on PBS also directed 'I Dream of Jeannie'

July 16, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Claudio Guzman, who produced one of the nation's first bicultural Spanish-English educational television programs for children, "Villa Alegre," which premiered in 1973 on PBS, has died. He was 80.

Guzman died Saturday of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a long illness, said his wife, Micki.

He had directed more than 30 episodes of the TV sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" when he helped create "Villa Alegre," a half-hour show in the tradition of "Sesame Street."

"We want children to understand that despite language, geography and cultural differences, they are all similar," Guzman, a native of Rancagua, Chile, told The Times in 1972.

Carmen Zapata was among the stars who dispensed wisdom to inquisitive youngsters in the mythical town of Villa Alegre, or "Happy Village."

In 1977, The Times called "Villa Alegre" a "stylized . . . uplifting" show that cleverly mixed Spanish and English.

The program aired until about 1980 on more than 230 stations nationally and was seen locally on KCET-TV Channel 28.

Guzman won an Emmy Award in 1959 for art direction for the TV film "Song of Bernadette," produced by the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.

It starred Desi Arnaz, who helped him break into Hollywood.

He also directed several Desilu Playhouse dramas, including 1959's "A Diamond for Carla," which starred Anna Maria Alberghetti, the Italian-born actress and operatic singer whom he married in 1964. They had two daughters and divorced in 1972.

The son of an architect, Claudio Elias Guzman was born Aug. 2, 1927, and came to the United States in 1951 intending to study architecture in the East but ended up in Los Angeles.

As a hospital orderly with limited English skills, Guzman often drew pictures to communicate with patients. One patient introduced him to Cuban-born TV producer Arnaz, with whom he could speak Spanish.

In a career that spanned four decades, Guzman directed almost 30 TV shows, including several episodes of "The Patty Duke Show" in the mid-1960s and "Harper Valley P.T.A." in 1981. He also produced several programs.

"He was very astute and very acute," said Joe Goodson, who was an associate producer on "I Dream of Jeannie." "He was a gem to deal with."

After Guzman married Micki in 1981, they spent six years in Chile, where he worked for a television station and designed homes for friends. More recently, he lived in the Carthay Circle area of Los Angeles.

An avid painter and sailor, he named his boat El Mudo, for "The Mute," a joking reference to the days when he barely spoke English.

In addition to his wife, Guzman is survived by his daughters, Alexandra, a family therapist in Los Angeles, and Pilar Guzman Mitchell, a magazine editor in New York City; stepchildren Ken Rich, Eloise Rich and Kelly Rich; and two grandsons.

A memorial is pending.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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